The story of June’s Pizza is the story of the Bay Area food industry in a nutshell: ambition, well-earned hype and red tape. The buzzy pizza restaurant opened in West Oakland’s O2 Artisans Aggregate in March last year, shortly after the pandemic disrupted everyone’s lives. The restaurant became an instant hit, with accolades from the local media and a cult following from pizza lovers all over the Bay. Then it was shut down by local health inspectors, after officials discovered that the business didn’t have any of the permits or inspections required to operate as a restaurant in Alameda County.
Owner Craig Murli told Nosh that when he rented June’s space inside one of the many refurbished shipping containers in the vast industrial site, his landlords didn’t ask many questions. Murli took out $23,000 of his savings and transformed the empty box, installing a wood-burning oven and recruiting some out-of-job industry friends to help him prepare and serve up the restaurant’s popular wood-fired pies. The courtyard was getting noticed, with stints from popular Bay Area pop-ups like Okkon, and June’s started selling out of whole pies more and more quickly. Simply through word of mouth, and without concerted marketing, June’s grew and grew.
Murli was a private chef when the pandemic hit. He learned he was out of work when he got a text message from his clients telling him not to show up that day, as they had decamped to a residence elsewhere.
Murli had been mulling the idea for June’s for about a year before that fateful text, and decided that the time had come to take a chance. “I decided to open it as a pop-up without the proper permitting, and it really took off,” he said. “And it became a question — do we want to stop for 4-6 months to get fully permitted, or see how far we can take it until we outgrow our space?”
That question was answered for him in early October, when the Alameda County Public Health Department slapped a notice of violation on the door of the container the pizza shop occupied. Murli was on vacation and found out, by phone, from his neighbors. On Oct. 6, the business announced its permanent closure in an Instagram post that was reported on by the SF Chronicle, among others. June’s Pizza was closed almost as abruptly as it had become an East Bay sensation.
For owner Craig Murli, the shutdown wasn’t a surprise. He suspects that inspectors stumbled upon the unpermitted June’s when doing a health inspection at the neary Soba Ichi, and the rest is history. “We paid a lot of talented cooks, we fed a community, I’m really proud of the product we made — I did what I could with the resources that I had, and it eventually caught up to us,” he said. The last the customers of June’s Pizza heard from the business was a highly successful sale of merchandise — T-shirts specifically, which, Murli says, sold out within two hours.
Murli said that he briefly considered applying for a temporary permit, but eventually decided to focus on the bigger picture. “Now that we have a lot of good will behind us, we’re going to rebuild in a legitimate, secure space,” he said. He’s already got a couple of permanent, brick-and-mortar locations he’s considering in West Oakland.
“This part of town has been really good to us,” Murli said. “Our brand is back alley; it’s not Rockridge or Temescal.” And while he won’t disclose any funding plans at the moment, Murli says that he won’t be doing crowdfunding, and that there’s been an outpour of support from loyal customers.
In his next spot, he wants to “focus extremely hard on just a couple of things, with really high quality.” Murli envisions just pizza, “cheap wine and beer” and collaborations with local wine makers on affordable pours. He enjoys “the simplicity of operations” at Gioia Pizza in Berkeley, the streamlined business model of Cholita Linda and the ingenuity of Lion Dance Cafe. “A really great product with a limited menu,” is what these places have in common, and that’s Murli’s motto as well.
Meanwhile, Mulri is basking in the love he’s feeling from the community, and in the fact that June’s Pizza, in its short-lived existence, became a greenhouse of sorts, at least an accelerator for the chefs who had worked there. Two of his former workers recently launched their own businesses: Matt Solimano with Sfizio Pasta, a creative pop-up in Berkeley, and Andres Geraldo Florez with the jam-packed Snail Bar. “June’s provided a safe haven for talented cooks,” Murli said. “I’ve always said [that] when you go, you better be going to start your own business!”